Rise and Rise of Community Foundations (Article)


This is an article prepared for the December 2002 issue of Alliance, a unique quarterly magazine on the funding of civil society throughout the world published by Allavida (www.allavida.org).

As demonstrated in the recent feature on community philanthropy in the September 2002 issue of Alliance, the community foundation model has spread rapidly to many corners of the world over the last 20 years. September saw the launch of the Border Philanthropy Partnership on the Mexico-US border. In October the first ever workshops on community foundations took place in Thailand and Indonesia.

"We are attempting to make a difference in border communities by increasing community philanthropy and engaging new leadership," said Linetta Gilbert of the Ford Foundation at the launch of the Border Philanthropy Partnership in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. "Let us look for common ground," said Ricardo Betancourt, President of FECHAC (Fundación del Empresariado Chihuahuense AC -- www.fundacion.org.mx), "so that we may have bicultural communities that are involved together and listen to each other respectfully, even when we think differently."

The US-Mexico Border

Funders from across the US and Mexico joined with representatives of 20 US and Mexican border community foundations to form the Partnership. This is the first bi-national effort aimed at building community philanthropy, fostering local leadership and experimenting creatively with collaborative funder-grantee governance. This event represented the formal birth of a partnership initiated a year earlier by the Ford Foundation.

The Partnership brings together nine national and regional founding funders committed to improving the quality of life and the environment in low-income communities along the US-Mexico border. These are the Fundación Gonzalo Río (an endowed Mexican foundation), the Houston Endowment, and the Annie E. Casey, William and Flora Hewlett, Inter-American, McCune Charitable, Meadows, C.S. Mott and Ford Foundations. Funders have set a goal of channelling up to $10 million in grants to the participating border community foundations. It is hoped that this will catalyse an increase in local giving by providing challenge funds. It will also help build the organizational capacity of the community foundations and provide re-granting money to establish effective support for the most pressing needs of border communities.

The Synergos Institute will manage the capacity-building programme and ensure the effective functioning of this unique partnership. Synergos has previously worked closely with the Mexican Center for Philanthropy (CEMEFI -- www.cemefi.org) and the Vamos Foundation (www.vamos.org) to develop and improve grantmaking institutions in Mexico.

Southeast Asia

A total of nine organizations, led by the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI -- www.codi.or.th), brought together about 100 participants from around Thailand to participate in a community foundations workshop in Bangkok. In Jakarta, the Institute for Economic and Social Research, Education and Information (LP3ES -- www.lp3es.or.id) hosted a similar event for about 30 individuals. In both cases, Synergos acted as a resource, highlighting the critical role that this emerging form of organization is playing in helping build strong communities around the world.

To provide first-hand experience of community foundation development, Synergos brought over the Executive Director of the Bajio Community Foundation (www.fcb.org.mx), Adriana Cortes, to share her experience of creating and running a community foundation in Irapuato, Mexico. Local civil society actors then presented ongoing local initiatives that are parallel to the community foundation experience, out of which could grow community foundations in each country.

While the purpose of these workshops was to begin a dialogue on this topic, follow-up action to determine the feasibility of establishing community foundations is already under way in Thailand.

A seminar on community foundations was held in the Philippines last year. As a result, Synergos and the Association of Foundations are now undertaking a survey on local initiatives that include elements of a community foundation.